Monday, April 30, 2007

Rah, rah, rah for Ski-U-Mah

See news on the Gophers women's rowing Big 10 Championship. (My daughter is third from the right holding right side of sign!)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Spring Fling

(Atlanta, 2007)

Enjoy the weekend!

We're off to watch the Big Ten rowing races in Madison. Go Gophers!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Look, look, look, look, look, look.

I do not have OCD, at least when it comes to the more stereotypical behaviors. I do not wash my hands over and over. I do not daily polish my mirrors and my bathroom handles and the canister that holds our cotton balls. I do not brush my hair a hundred times each night before sleep.

I do, however, suffer from random acts of anxiety. Like when it's 2 a.m. and my daughter said she'd be home by 2 a.m. so I only half-fall asleep and at the requisite curfew look at the clock every 3 seconds, so that in that one minute of time that it is 2 a.m. I've looked at the clock 20 times.

Or when I get good news and I have something to show for it--a letter, an e-mail, a little handwritten note set by my bedside--I keep clicking it open (or holding it in my hands) to read it, over and over, like that scene from Castaway when Tom Hanks keeps clicking his flashlight on to see the cameo picture of his girlfriend. On and off. On and off. On and off.

So I've finished my twenty pages of writing to submit for the Loft Mentor series. I was going to do 40 pages and submit something in two genres but I simply ran out of time and energy. I e-mailed the pages to work and throughout the day yesterday I clicked on the file and read it, then clicked out of it competely and saved it in my home folder. Then I clicked it again at noon. Click on, click off, click on, click off. Somebody slap me, please. Like Cher in Moonstruck, just come over and slap me.

Last night I got all tucked in and called out goodnight again to the son, brought the covers right up to my ears (wasn't it a great night to sleep in St. Paul, brisk and crisp?), and fell fast asleep. But then at 3:50 a.m. my eyes were wide open and I felt the agitation in my shoulders. Like a sleepwalker I sort of floated down the flight of stairs and pulled out one of the three neatly stapled photocopies of the writing and read it once more. Which was good because this time I said to myself, "Okay, that wasn't half-bad."

So this morning, feeling all happy and accomplished, I jumped into my reasonably newish car with plans to buy a chai and muffin at Sisu and at the corner of Scheffer and Hamline, the Vibe died. Died there on the corner. I was so NOT-OCD by that point that I just pushed it over to the side of the road and called a tow truck. I didn't even open up the hood to see what might be wrong (not that I'd know). Didn't even check the bus schedule to see when I might hop a ride to work.

Nope, nothing's ruining this little glow of accomplishment. Maybe I'll even bring along some of those twenty pages and read them aloud to the tow-truck guy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Yes! You over there! What is your question? Well then why did you have your hand up?

I used to dance a lot when I was younger. Jazz, tap, ballet. I was a Kansas City Kitty in the tap program in Missouri. I joined up with UND's dance program when I was in high school. And in college I danced and performed with a small dance studio in Winona.

Playwright Kevin Kling writes about dancers and writers. Dancers have bodies like exclamation points--tall and limber and joyous. Writers have bodies like question marks, bent into shape by all that sitting and crouching over desks and keyboards.

"Mama, I don't want to be a question mark anymore."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sit! (good girl)

“If I’m stuck on a poem, I might read the Brittanica entry and write words down that I think are interesting. It’s like filling a fridge to make a meal.”--Madeline DeFrees
(Blue Dusk: New and Selected Poems)

I do that, too, although more often I let myself get lost in the links of Wikipedia. But I call that procrastination, not inspiration. In my desk I have two little packets of slips, a whole mess of them I never use.

One packet is made of different shapes of colored paper with strings attached, and I made them to hang on my desk lamp: "I'll be back soon," is written on an orange circle with a smiley face. "In meeting" is on white with a little drawing of a meeting desk and chairs. "At research library" is another. "Out for the day!" is on green paper and I've drawn a stick picture of myself running and waving goodbye. I sometimes add to these notes when I'm bored or annoyed. A new one: "At lunch," with a picture of a clock face with its hands at 2:00 pm.

The other stack is a set of words with their definitions. I've had them a long time. You'd think they were part of a self-improvement program, like my own version of Einstein Baby. I've got "ethno-biography," "bricks-and-mortar business," "box social," "legacy admissions," "brio," and "intrepid."

You know how writing coaches and teachers tell you to sit down at your desk and write, no matter if you have nothing to write, nothing to tell, just sit there and write for at least two hours every day, preferably in the morning? These little packets of line drawings and Webster definitions are what I come up with when I'm stuck. I am writing. See, I'm writing.

I once asked an author how she was able to publish five books in ten years (and they're all good books, too). We were at a conference and our exhibit booth was packed with people and she told me loudly and bluntly so that nearly everyone turned around to look at us: "There's just one thing you have to do. You've got to put in some ass time. You've just got to plant yourself in a chair and write."

Excuse me while I draw myself a new little doorknob holder with that wisdom.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Working on my 3 Rs: reading, 'riting, reaching

I'm working, I am. Thinking about connections, structure, architecture of stories. . . . I have a title: "I Live Next Door Now." The room where I write is so damn dusty that I really did wish I lived next door now. . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Last month I highlighted a book. This month a place. Mmmm, a glorious place. It is called The Dwelling in the Woods (320-592-3708).

The Dwelling, located on beautiful land near McGrath, Minnesota, is a hermitage retreat. I stayed there last spring for a long weekend of writing and reflection. I got "The Meadows," a homey cabin surrounded by the woods on one side and a lovely meadow on the other. I was treated to amazing, mostly vegetarian food (you can eat your meals in the companion of others or take your meal wrapped back to your hermitage), and a welcoming fresh-baked loaf of the Dwelling's famous bread. I took a hot bath in the claw-toothed tub at The Octagon, which also has a nice library and a reading nook at the top of the stairs, a meditation space--with drums (drums!). I took hikes on the walking trails in the nearby Solana State Forest. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.

I wholeheartedly recommend it. You can go it alone. You can bring a friend. You wouldn't believe how rejuvenating it is.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep

"We’re often cynical about how resolutions are never kept, but we shouldn’t be. Resolutions are perhaps lies, but they’re lies of good faith, necessary illusions. As long as we can make them, we are saved, we can control the chaos of destiny; it doesn’t matter that we break them and that others view us with skepticism. Every resolution is good simply because it is declared. It is a comedy, perhaps, but it keeps us sane."

From “The Temptation of Innocence: Living in the Age of Entitlement.”

I am determined to keep my resolution to collect my stories and submit them by the end of next week. Even if I just got eleven e-mails in a row from an author and then a request to meet now, "mano a editor," to see "where we are and where we need to go." (beats me! I'm still on e-mail #4) Even if my Sundays tend to be overwhelmingly full. Even if my son plays hockey eight of the next ten days.

So I'm going to sign off for a little while, coming up for air only to give you updates on the WRITING, not the dark green chive shoots popping up through the garden mess, not the new boxed rosé that the folks at Solo Vino are raving about, not the Twins pitching staff, who don't seem to be doing too bad, not too bad at all.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Even when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, there is much to praise

7:45 a.m.: Curse husband under breath for waking me before eight with loud hand-dishwashing. Curse self for being ungrateful. Curse effects of PMS.

8:00 a.m.: Read another chapter in girly book "The Reading Group."

8:30: Husband brings hot chai tea and Sunday paper to me in bed. Praise husband for good deeds.

9:30: Eat French toast and bacon with son and husband. Discuss buying new baseball glove for under $100. See wrens peek out of birdhouse. Say, "Look the birds are mating," and watch my son drop his fork and crane his neck to see.

10:00: Blog, read blogs, fix blog, comment on blogs. Hear son say, "Whatcha doin'? Bloggin'?" Praise son under breath for giving me good boy quotes.

10:45: Give young son foot and hand massage; he says they are sore. He used to wear shoe prosthetics; maybe its time to have another pair fitted. Together we count his bruises and scrapes. A rare closeness since he turned thirteen. I tell him he has to wash his hair before dinner with our old friends Owen and Marilyn tonight. He tells me he knows what he wants to wear, maybe to ward off any of my suggestions.

11:00: Field phone call from husband out shopping for new baseball glove with son. Approve glove purchase of $181.00.

11:10: Check bank balance online. Do quick math.

11:30: Wash dishes, put away clean clothes, tidy up bedroom. Think about getting new eyeglasses. Daydream about traveling . . . to Puerto Rico, maybe?

11:40: Eat another piece of chocolate caramel from St. Paul's Caramel Queen. Curse under my breath that it will be the last one of the weekend. Of the week!

11:50: Remember my friend Sharon's birthday is today. Think about her coming over to St. Paul to celebrate next weekend. Then remember another friend's birthday is today, too. Two tax babies. Spring girls. Fresh as daisies. Admirable women both.

Noon: Call daughter at college to say hello. Wake her up. Feel her cursing me under her breath.

1:00: Stop by local garden shop to browse through pansies, bleeding hearts, and lots of phlox.

2:00: Watch tail end of Twins v Tampa Bay. Watch a lot of swings and misses and curses under breath.

3:30: Buy new school pants for son, after he blew out his on a rock playing dodgeball in the dark. See counting of scrapes at 10:45 above.

4:00: Neighborhood walk filled with good cheer. Two-year-old calls out "Bye-Bye" to every passerby, which is pretty astute when you think about it, since no one really stops to chat. Two teens double dutch on a ten-speed. Honda Element drives by with the painted slogan, "Dr. Computer. Help is on the way!" Praise spring under my breath.

5:30: Watch son's last bit of baseball practice. Drive out to Woodbury to have dinner with our friends, a dear old couple who are now in their eighties. Praise both son and husband under my breath for their gentle ways with them.

9:45 p.m.: Crawl under quilt layers with book again. Give praise for these full days.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I'm just working on a few bedtime stories for Don Imus

Sunday is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first major league game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

From the book First in the Field:
"Robinson was a determined man and a gifted athlete. In his two years at UCLA, Jackie became the university's first 'four-letter' man and left there as a sports legend. Unfortunately because of his color, doors to professional sports were not readily open. It wasn't until a few years later in 1945 that he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers."

From Hank Aaron, in Time magazine:
"I was 14 years old when I first saw Jackie Robinson. It was the spring of 1948, the year after Jackie changed my life by breaking baseball's color line. His team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, made a stop in my hometown of Mobile, Ala., while barnstorming its way north to start the season, and while he was there, Jackie spoke to a big crowd of black folks over on Davis Avenue. I think he talked about segregation, but I didn't hear a word that came out of his mouth. Jackie Robinson was such a hero to me that I couldn't do anything but gawk at him."

My son plays for St. Paul's Midway Baseball and took a clinic with longtime coaches Steve Winfield (Dave's brother) and Billy Peterson, infamous Little League coach and mentor to both Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor. Coach Peterson was one of the influential people Molitor thanked at his Hall of Fame induction.

Before my son and his teammates were sent home for the afternoon, instead of talking about wins and losses and pop flies and grounders, Winfield and Peterson spent time talking about Robinson's courage and talent.

Dave Winfield talks about his days playing Midway baseball in St. Paul.

"'Considering that we grew up in a broken home, we had a happy childhood because of the love and affection our mother gave us,' he said. When the Winfield brothers did venture out, they usually strayed no farther than the Oxford Playground in the next block. There they were befriended by Bill Peterson, the playground director, who encouraged them to play basketball and baseball. 'Bill Peterson was a white man in the black community,' Winfield recalled in the interview, 'but he gave more to that community than anyone I know. To me, at different times, he was coach, friend, father, all rolled into one.' The guidance he received as a youngster was not lost on Winfield. When he became a top-earning major league baseball player he founded an organization to help needy children, especially those in San Diego and New York City."

From Twin
One of Paul Molitor's teammates talked about the St. Paulite a few years back, when Molitor was nearing 3,000 hits. "'Paul is going as strong as ever at 40. If he didn't get hurt, he'd be closing in on 4,000 hits.' Twins manager Tom Kelly marveled at Molitor's influence, 'Molly is one of those rare players who makes the other people around him better. It starts in the clubhouse, but where it really matters is out on the field, when the players see how a professional like Paul Molitor handles himself.' "

Coach Billy told the story to my son and the other Little Leaguers about Molitor working hard as a kid to perfect his sport. Molitor, who came from a family of 8 kids, would throw a baseball over the roof of his house and then run around the house so he could catch the ball on the other side. He did this over and over.

Now, I'm no fool when it comes to the state of sports in America--can you say "Duke thugs get their cake and eat it too?" And as somone who makes her living in the arts, God knows what we could do with the money poured into these new stadiums. But it's amazing what all these elite athletes--from kids in St. Paul to the young women in New Jersey--go through to excel in their particular sport.


One of my hometown favorites, Ashley Ellis-Milan, St. Paul Central graduate and center for the Gophers women's basketball team, along with her Gophers teammates, recently sponsored a "Girls Night Out" at the Sports Pavilion. Over 100 inner-city girls had a chance to work out with the Gophers, see behind-the-scenes locker and weight rooms, and find out about being a Division-1 athlete. The St. Paul Parks coordinator said, "The Gopher players are wonderful working with the girls and it’s a great opportunity for them to interact with some solid role models" (from


BTW, thinking about the Molitor warm-up drill, I'd better warn my neighbors now.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


It is time to cut loose, yes?

A week of duties, or losses, bad colds, or sons who won't hug you anymore. A week of unwelcome snow, tax burdens, New York's baseball bruisers, stiff upper lips. It could be the end of a celebratory week, too. Your birthday. Your new account. Those great baked goods you made for the family dinner.

Alcohol does not have to be involved, but as the following cuts show, it really does make for a hell of a good time.

This is from a Lithuanian performance piece: "Three Sisters in High Heels Drink Vodka."

The performance unfolds (and varies each night) as the Sisters drink whole bottles of Vodka.

I think it is really funny that the actors wear protective head gear.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

little insecurities

In light of my events Wednesday, you might chuckle to know that:

1. While browsing at Borders, I studied the entire Glamour’s Big Book of Dos and Don’ts.

2. After flipping through the pages of Self magazine, I made a notation in my little black book for the best wrinkle-absorbing eye cream.

3. I cursed the fact that I never bought those new shoes.

4. Thanks to Stacy London, after watching “What Not to Wear” I sorted through my underwear drawer to make sure I had something decent to hold up the girls.

5. I did fifty sit-ups and ten push-ups before bed last night.

6. I googled Rob Hudson.

7. I actually practiced my smile in the mirror.

8. I washed my car, thinking that would help.

9. I practiced yoga in the dark History Center locker room over lunch, hoping that would help.

10. I had the silly thought, “If Cormac McCarthy can come out of hiding, I can do this teeny little segment, too.”

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pitching Poetry

It's National Poetry Month.

There are all kinds of ways to celebrate. You could write a spring haiku.

This is a good one for April, from the Haiku Society:

spring planting
her refusal
to compromise
(Frogpond XIX:1 Anthony J. Pupello, 1996)

You could celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day.

You could attend a poetry reading. Here are a few poetry readings and book signings for Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: Fifty Years of Minnesota Poetry.

Wednesday, April 11 at 7:00 PM – Minneapolis
Mill City Museum

704 S. Second Street, Minneapolis
Cosponsored by the Loft Literary Center, the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, and Mill City Museum.
Free reading and signing featuring Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Michael Dennis Browne, Heid Erdrich, Deborah Keenan, Wang Ping, and Angela Shannon, with editor Robert Hedin as emcee

Wednesday, April 25 at 7:00 PM – St. Paul
St. Anthony Park Library

2245 Como Avenue, St. Paul
Cosponsored by Micawber’s Books and the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library
Free reading, signing, and reception featuring Ray Gonzalez, Leslie Adrienne Miller, John Minczeski, Jim Moore, and Joyce Sutphen, with editor Robert Hedin as emcee
Reception to follow at Micawber’s Books

Sunday, May 13 at 2:00 PM – St. Paul
Swedenborgian Church

170 Virginia Avenue, St. Paul
Sponsored by Common Good Books
Free reading and signing featuring Patricia Hampl, Phebe Hanson, Michael Dennis Browne, and Mai Neng Moua, with editor Robert Hedin and Garrison Keillor

You can catch me pitching the Mill City event and the book on Kare-11 Sunrise and Kare-11 Showcase, 6:15 a.m. and 10 a.m.,(sometime before the segment on National Fondue Day) this Wednesday, April 11. Have sympathy. I'll have slept fitfully the night before and been up before the birds to make that first studio appearance. And I hear it will be snowing that morning, too. Ah, for the love of words.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Easter Bilby

I got my first Easter chocolate of the season, a gift from someone just back from Australia.

"Oh, an Easter bunny!" I say with delight. The chocolate is shaped like a bunny and wrapped in colored tinfoil.

"Not an Easter bunny. This is from Haigh's in Adelaide. The Aussies vilify rabbits. This is the Easter Bilby."

'Vilify rabbits?" I think. Cute furry creatures with large ears and fluffy tails? Gloria Steinem against the Hefner bunnies, that I understand. But slam the Easter Bunny?

From the Haigh's Chocolates website:
"Back in the early 1990s, The Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia created the Easter Bilby. Not long after, we joined forces with them. Haigh’s stopped making chocolate bunnies and made Australia’s very first Easter Bilbies – an immediate hit with our customers.

Thanks to increased awareness and lots of hard work by a number of organisations and government departments, the bilby is starting to make a comeback. In South Australia, where the bilby was once extinct, there are now estimated to be over 1500 bilbies back in the wild.

The bilby is a very cute little creature, native to Australia. This small burrowing bandicoot used to be found in its millions, living across 70% of our country. Sadly, over the past 200 years, settlement and clearing, plus the introduction of rabbits, foxes and feral cats, pushed this animal almost to extinction – in fact, entirely to extinction in South Australia.

Rabbit Free Australia is a non-profit organisation established to raise community awareness of the damage to the environment done by the wild rabbit, and find ways to get rid of all the wild rabbits in this country.

The Foundation developed and registered the Easter Bilby campaign in 1991 – partly to raise awareness of the damage done by rabbits to native wildlife, and partly to raise money from royalties of Easter Bilby to fund their work.

Two years later, Haigh’s joined forces with the Foundation, and created Australia’s very first Easter Bilby."

Well, who knew? I'm all for nursing back the bilby but I feel a little bad for the bunny now, the black sheep of the Outback. I tell you, one chocolaty bite of this bilby, however, and I'm happy to ride both sides of the debate. I am a bandicoot/bunny fence-rider, the Norm Coleman of Easter chocolate ideology. Bilbies from Adelaide, bunnies from St. Paul. Here's hoping you find a little chocolate in your basket.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Don't Forget! Not Long 'til Mother's Day

My last post made you a little sentimental for your own mum, didn't it? In an earlier post I mentioned the custom box of chocolates you could get her (, but there's still time for a Mother's Day portrait, too. . . . Thanks to Marta for the video tip.

Good Friday

My good friend, an introvert, sent me an article from The Atlantic called "Caring for your introvert." It's good. I have never taken the Myers-Briggs test so I don't know if I'm a J or an I or an X or a Y. I do know that I am what folks call a people-lover. But I am also a closet introvert, too. (We all are, perhaps; it seems to come with this modern life.)

My son was away visiting his grandparents for spring break so I was out about town every day this week. I do love people. I love meeting old friends and strangers alike. Tuesday a colleague and I took our former intern out to celebrate his new job at the Indiana University Press. We sat by the window at Luci Ancora overlooking the St. Kate's campus and we talked all night long. The next day I drove to Mankato, had three hours of author meetings and another 2 hours talking to a graduate class at the college. In between all this I had chatty dinners out with my husband. Yesterday I had a three-hour meeting with an author while a Dunn Brothers grinder roared in the background.

Today I'm exhausted. Flat out spent. When I picked up my son at the airport last night, he (because he's now 13) gave me the Fargo nod as greeting. I was so tired I just gave it right back to him. We both understood.

Luckily, I took this day off. It's a perfect day to stay inside and be quiet.

Did I tell you my mom is an artist? I wrote a little about her in an earlier post. One time, while I was on retreat at St. Paul's Monastery, I wrote a piece about the Sisters there and how in many ways they were a model for growing old. I wrote that because my family moved around so much in the Air Force I hadn't come to know many older women, the way you might if you grew up in Chicago your whole life and had your great-aunt living down the street or the sage crones over at the salon or at the neighborhood coffee shop.

I take these retreats every year--another way to rejuvenate after a long season of demands and rushes. Some people are leary of spending time with religious communities but many of them have set up retreats with the option of participating in song and prayer--or not. On this one I was mostly interested in writing. So I would write in the spacious, light-filled library and then take many walks in the acreage and woods behind the monastery.

I was walking along singing the praises of these nuns, who cared for each other with such tenderness, and then I stopped right in my tracks. Of course I have another wise woman mentor. My mother. I overlook her own skills and life intentions sometimes because I'm too busy acting like her daughter. I thought about how over the years she has made military-issue homes beautiful for us, often on a moment's notice, moving from one bleak prairie base to another. She would embroider our pillowcases and paint all the pictures that went on our walls. When she wanted to make art she would do it late at night, after we had all gone to bed. Some mornings she'd just be coming away from her easel and her eyes would be crackled and red and we'd be all raring to go. But she was drawn and committed to her art in ways I so appreciate now. That's my mom below.

After moving so much and leaving her own hometown and family far behind, her art is the one clear thing she can call her very own.

So I've set my new spot to write, up in the bedroom on the farm table we got for free from the basement of our first apartment. In Atlanta I got an embellished print of my initial "P" from an antique store and then found a lovely square frame for 99 cents at Goodwill, and I've propped that against the wall, like Sid Hartman's nameplate over his booth at Manny's. We've got an old laptop without a battery and no Internet capabilities, but it'll do just fine. I'll pull out all the different stories I've been saving in brown accordian folders and start working away. I like this resolution.

But first, I've got to take a nap.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Play Ball

Me, to my son: Hey, you kind of remind me of Justin Morneau.

Son: Yeah, right.

Me: No really, look at these pictures I found of you.
(Readers, click on images below to see larger.)

Son: Yeah, but look, Mom. I'm totally missing the ball.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Inspirational Settings

I had a great weekend with my hubby in Iowa. It's amazing what a little TLC does for the both of us. I came back renewed and committed to work on and send in some writing for an April 27 writing deadline.

On our Sunday morning sleep-in, I even dreamed about the pieces I would write. I had woken to the soft rain at the workaday hour of six a.m. but knew there would be hot tea and apple fritters waiting for me later so I just turned over and gave in to more sleep. Luxury!

So now I'm going to set up a better writing space in my room. Look what I found at The Happy Booker:

From The Guardian Unlimited, a feature on the writing rooms of some of Britain's beloved authors. This one is A.S. Byatt's (whose book Possession: A Romance is extraordinary). Byatt explains,

"Inside is a purposeful disorder. Two of the walls are books, floor to ceiling. There are also, owing to irresistible on-line ordering, tunnels and towers of books all over the floor. The books on the desk are those I'm using for the current chapter - Kynaston's wonderful history of the City of London, some books on Rye, some books on Art Nouveau, Hofmannsthal, Millicent Garrett Fawcett. I write fiction by hand, hence the absence of a computer in the picture. I write better since I put the computer in a separate office - partly at least because I am less tempted to play Freecell when I can't think of a sentence. Carmen Callil made the printed sign for me when she was publisher of Chatto. ANTONIA WRITING TIME. It still works against distraction and procrastination. I try to write all morning, and read and think in the afternoons."

Even if I only clear off the old table and set out some yellow notepads in my own room, I'm inspired by these writers' spaces.